Recent Commonplace Entries


“I mentioned earlier that assets and liabilities always balance – that’s the way they are designed, as accounting equalities. But when we come to global wealth, that isn’t true. Studies of the global balance sheet consistently show more liabilities than assets. The only way that would make sense is if the world were in debt to some external agency, such as Venusians or the Emperor Palpatine.” (John Lanchester, in London Review of Books, July 5)

“It is not quite easy to get on good terms with a man if you think his wife whom he is very fond of is as mad as a hatter.” (Rebecca West on Scott Fitzgerald, quoted by Alex Harvey, in London Review of Books, July 5)

Tribal News                                                                                                                “In recent years, even some of the Turks have come to doubt their origin story, choosing instead to embrace the idea that they are Native American. In 2013, the South Carolina government recognized some of them as the  Sumter Tribe of Cheraw Indians, a step that opened a rift in the small community . . . . .  The authors were aware that they were treading on sensitive ground. Online arguments between the two camps — those who still consider themselves Turks and those who now say they are Cheraw — have grown so heated that when the authors appeared recently at a local history museum, organizers requested a police presence.” (from NYT report on the Turks of Sumter County, South Carolina, July 5)                                                                                                              “Our Tatmadaw, being a people’s Tatmadaw born of ethnic people, is an organization representing the state and the people.” (General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief on the country’s military force, the Tatmadaw, reported in NYT, July 18)

“Seen from almost any point of view. The government’s decision to increase spending on the NHS is disgusting. It is cynical in its timing to coincide with the Health Service’s 70th birthday in England; weak in its refusal to tie the increase to any improvements; mendacious in its claimed link between the increase and a Brexit dividend; evasive in its refusal to represent this as a straightforward tax rise; constitutionally improper in its efforts to ‘take the issue our of politics’ by trying to agree it for many years ahead; and, as always, for those who still think the NHS is ‘the envy of the world’ (have they actually asked the world?), ‘too little, too late’.” (Charles Moore in the Spectator, June 23)

“Franco was a dictator, but a good one. I really don’t understand why these Communists want to take him out.’ (Estela Tapias, on prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to remove Franco to a more modest burial place, from NYT, July 8)

“We are given to accepting the phrase ‘western civilisation’ without much thought. It is a cliché, a catchword. It is confused, and often identified with ‘western democracy’ as if democracy has a compass direction. And it is often identified with Christianity, which is a creed and not a civilisation. If, as I think, it is none of those things, it is worth while our enquiring what western civilisation really is and how it has developed.”

“I think it is important for us to realise that it is not western civilisation which is tired and worn-out and effete, it is communism. It is not western civilisation which is unable to accept new ideas and alter its social structure, it is communism. And it is not western civilisation which has to exclude religion and to force its scientists and philosophers to follow the ‘party line’. For communism is, in my opinion, the ideology of tired men and tired minds, and western civilization is the ideology of fresh men and fresh minds.

The thing that tired minds dislike most of all is change. And change, as I have said, is the essence of western civilisation. Its social structure was never static; first it was monastic, then it was feudal then capitalistic and now to a large extent it is becoming social-democratic. The truth is not final nor is it simple. It does not lie at the bottom of a well, it is many-sided. Western civilisation, like its religion, represents a constant striving towards an ideal which it never reaches. There is always another peak to climb, another social injustice to put right.”

(Basil Schonland at Rhodes University, Fort Hare, 26 October, 1951, quoted by Brian Austin in Schonland: Scientist and Soldier, p 409 & 410)

“Back in the 1990s I had several acquaintances, most of them living outside London, who genuinely believed that what got reviewed in national newspapers and weekly magazines was the result of half a dozen book-world eminences meeting in a smoke-filled room to apportion favours to their friends and line up hatchet jobs for provincial upstarts they disliked.” (D. J. Taylor in Literary Review, July)

“One of the things that The Ink Trade shows is that Burgess, whose main fault as a reviewer was excessive compassion for his fellow authors, can still serve as a model for beginners and old hacks alike: be fair, be clear, give your reader a good idea of what the things is actually like, do your homework if necessary and, if you can, entertain. This will help you review well, but not nearly as well as Mr Burgess. Nobody did it better.” (Kevin Jackson, in Literary Review, July)

“When it comes to conceptual art, some may wonder who is the more accomplished con-man (or the more culpable): the highly skilled forger with a painterly technique to dupe the expert, or the skill-free ‘artist’, who persuades the collector that a urinal or an unmade bed was ever ‘art’ in the first place. In this world of conceptual crookery, it is often a moot point who is really fooling whom.” (John Adamson, Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, in History Today, July)

“The interesting thing about the rich is that they like being told where to get off. They confuse it with honesty.” (Bernie Gunther, in March Violets, by Philip Kerr, Chapter 2)

“The simple fact of the matter is that a man who wakes alone will think of having a woman just as surely as a man who wakes with a wife will think of having breakfast.” (from Philip Kerr’s The Pale Criminal, Chapter 17)



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